Our History

Leave No Trace was incorporated as a 501(c)(3), nonprofit organization in 1994, though the Leave No Trace concept is over 40 years old. Created by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service in the 1960’s, Leave No Trace was seen as increasingly necessary as public land use expanded and land managers witnessed the biophysical effects of this use.

By the mid-1980’s, the Forest Service had a formal “No-Trace” program emphasizing wilderness ethics and sustainable travel and camping practices. The success of this program lead to cooperation among the Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management’s authorship of a pamphlet entitled “Leave No Trace Land Ethics.” In the early 1990s, the Forest Service worked with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to develop hands-on, science-based minimum impact education training for non-motorized recreational activities.

An outdoor recreation summit convened in 1993 that included the various outdoor industry and sporting trade associations, NOLS, nonprofit organizations, outdoor manufacturers and federal land management agencies to create an independent nonprofit organization called Leave No Trace, Inc. The organization, now known as the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (the Center), was incorporated to develop and expand Leave No Trace training and educational resources, spread the general program components, and engage a diverse range of partners from the federal land management agencies and outdoor industry corporations to nonprofit environmental and outdoor organizations and youth-serving groups.

In 1994, the Center entered into the first of a series of Memorandums of Understandings with four primary federal land management agencies including the United States Department of Agriculture — Forest Service and the United States Department of the Interior — Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service. Recently, the United States Army Corps of Engineers joined these federal land management agencies. In 2007, the National Association of State Parks Directors, the governing organization for state parks in the United States, and the Center developed a formal affiliate partnership to expand the possible use of the Leave No Trace program on state park lands.

Since 2004, the Center has developed a comprehensive, three-tiered training system, encompassing field courses such as the five-day Master Educator course and workshops that range from one hour to two days. The Center also expanded Leave No Trace teaching tools adding educational activity guides, reference cards for various types of outdoor use, and expanding on the Leave No Trace Skills & Ethics booklet series for distinct activities and ecosystems.

Major program development in the last decade has focused on providing quality Leave No Trace education while broadening the program’s reach including: 1) A Traveling Trainer Program consisting of teams of mobile educators that travel throughout the continental United States teaching Leave No Trace and providing grassroots support to build Leave No Trace education and outreach programs at the local level. In 2007, a mobile summer educational program called the “e-tour” was added to the Center’s traveling educational offerings and in 2011, a seasonal team for Colorado was added; 2) A youth program called PEAK — Promoting Environmental Awareness in Kids — that reaches over 150,000 diverse youth annually with direct programming; 3) Frontcountry and urban-based Leave No Trace programs and training for state and city natural areas and parks; 4) Community-based initiatives including local and regional educational events and volunteer opportunities coordinated by a State Advocate network; 5) A grants and scholarship program for educators, diverse communities, and kids education; and 6) A slate of emerging programs such as Hot Spots and Backyard Sessions to support Leave No Trace programs in communities across the country.

Today, the Leave No Trace program reaches millions of Americans and dozens of countries each year with direct training, educational tools and information. Corporate partners, individual members, foundation support, and the sales of Leave No Trace educational materials provide the primary support for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

A national, volunteer-based Board of Directors made up of leaders from the outdoor industry, national youth-serving organizations, nonprofit organizations, and the scientific community provide strategic leadership and set policy. A staff headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, carry out the organization’s programs and mission related work.